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Working from home seemed exciting and new when the pandemic first started.
But almost 24 months in, the excitement is slowly fading.
Two years back, there was a sense of “we’re all in this together.” We shared funny memes about lockdown on Instagram, baked endless batches of banana cakes, and followed fun workout routines on YouTube. To be honest, I don’t think any of us thought the pandemic would last this long.
But now? Many of us are facing another pandemic: working from home burnout.
You may ask, wait, how can you feel burnt out from working from home? Honestly, it’s just as bad as regular office burnout (if not worse).
Being at home all the time whilst trying to work and living as if things are normal when things aren’t bloody normal at all can leave you feeling mentally exhausted. How does it happen? Well, when people struggle to separate their work life and home life.
From the outside, working from home looks like a dream:
>> Not having to wear a uniform, why not simply stay in pajamas all day?
>> No commute—no packed buses or trains or horrible rush hours.
>> Working from your bed.
>> It costs less (not having to buy lunch and coffee); yup, that used to add up believe it or not.
>> You can take breaks at any moment.
>> More time with loved ones.
But it really isn’t as rosy as it looks. For many, working from home creates a sense of constant exposure to work. People are feeling constantly switched “on” and can’t think about anything but work. There is not that separation between the office and the home. There is also this feeling that we must be constantly available to our bosses (or it might seem as though we are not working at all). Many people are actually working much longer and much harder than they would at their office.
Where do we draw the line?
It is probably even tougher for parents. Balancing meals, work, school runs, and bedtime routines. On top of all the hassle, we are getting distracted by the political climate, ridiculous leaders, the news, the new variants, the new restrictions. We cannot get away from it: newspapers, social media—this overload of information makes it extremely hard to switch off.
In many countries, people’s regular outlets for stress like restaurants, cafés, and the gym are either shut or limited due to safety measures. How are we supposed to unwind?
Perhaps the hardest of all these aspects is the isolation people are facing—the limited contact with friends and loved ones. Companionship helps to ease stress and without it, it is extremely difficult to deal with burnout.
How can you tell if you are experiencing work-from-home burnout? These are some of the signs:
>> Feeling extremely apathetic about work
>> Inability to concentrate on any task
>> Brain fog, fatigue, mood swings, depression
>> Not completing work on time
>> Not finding joy in things you used to find joy in
>> Insomnia or getting very poor sleep
>> Drinking to cope
>> Physical sensations: headaches, dizziness, stomach problems, heart palpitations, chest tightness
>> Random crying at small things
I don’t think any of these signs should be taken lightly. Work-from-home burnout is not any less serious than an office burnout and you are going to need to take some serious self-care steps to begin recovering.
Here are some tips to get you back on track:
1. Set some clear boundaries around work. You need a proper start and finishing time and you should stick to it. Be disciplined with the way you go about your day: have breakfast, take a shower, get dressed. Try to follow the same routine you would follow as if you were going to the office.
2. Don’t work from your bed! I know it’s tempting—it’s warm and cozy—but this can really affect your sleeping quality. Your brain will start to associate your bed with work and you really don’t want that. Your bedroom should be a place your brain associates with rest and sleep. (In fact, if you can, try not to work from your bedroom at all!) Set aside a quiet, separate room in your house to work from.
3. Try to take two 10-minute breaks during the day. No technology—just check in with yourself, watch your breathing, meditate, or practice mindfulness. Give your brain a break. Open the window; breathe in fresh air.
4. End the work day by going for a walk. There are so many benefits to walking and it can really give your mind the unwinding it so badly needs.
5. Take a break from work (if you can). Sometimes burnout is so severe you actually find it hard to function. This is a serious sign you really need to switch off completely for a few weeks or so.
6. Get a holiday booked in! Give yourself something to look forward to; this may help to motivate you whilst working. It could even be a short weekend getaway in the countryside. Obviously this is going to depend on the restrictions where you are.
It looks like the pandemic isn’t ending anytime soon, and whilst it feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, you can take small steps to feeling like yourself again. No more sacrificing “me time!”
A really important thing is to reach out to others for help. You shouldn’t have to go through burnout alone. A loving ear or helping hand will take you a long way.